As violin prodigy turned boxing superstar Joe Bonaparte, Seth Numrich proves once again that, despite only being 25, he has the talent and star power to carry a big Broadway drama. After a Main Stem debut as Lorenzo opposite Al Pacino in the 2010 revival of Merchant of Venice, Numrich gave a moving performance as as protagonist Albert Narracott in Lincoln Center Theater’s Tony-winning production of War Horse. He also broke hearts as Romeo opposite War Horse co-star Matt Doyle in the indie Romeo and Juliet film remake Private Romeo. Now, Numrich is teaming up with LCT again for the 75th anniversary of Clifford Odets’ boxing saga Golden Boy at the Belasco Theatre. Broadway.com caught up with Numrich to get his perspective on Golden Boy, the importance of awards and co-stars ranging from Doyle to Pacino to Tony Shalhoub.
How does it feel to be leading your second big Broadway show?
It’s been amazing. I feel incredibly fortunate to be working on something like this. To be back working at Lincoln Center is just the best. They do it for all the right reasons, and they do great work.
How did this role come about for you? Did you audition?
I had known the play for a long time. When I was in acting school [at Juilliard], we worked on the play as a rehearsal project, and I fell in love with it then. So when I heard it was coming back around, I did everything I could to get my agents to get me in for an audition. I had never worked with [director] Bart Sher, so I had to impress him. It was terrifying because I wanted the role so much. I had that initial audition, then a callback and a few days after that, they called up and I was ecstatic.
Did you feel like you were taking a risk by signing on? Your role is so difficult, and the play such an Everest.
I was terrified, but in all the best ways. I know this play well: what a challenge it is, the amazing history behind this play and the amazing actors who have played this role before. All of that definitely makes you afraid, but I read a great quote from Judi Dench, something like, “The day that I’m not terrified is the day I hope I’m not doing this anymore.” Because that’s what this is all about. If you’re not doing something that’s challenging you and scaring you, what’s the point? I’m still terrified every time before I go on stage, but it's more [a feeling of], 'Can I do justice to this piece of writing?' It’s the kind of challenge you dream of as an actor.
How do you leave this dark and complex character behind after a three-hour performance?
It takes me about an hour to come back to the real world after the show; it’s a lot to go through. It’s nice when people are there. That’s a good way, weirdly, to come out of the world of the play—to sit down and have a conversation about the bigger themes of the play, because then it becomes less about the experience I’ve been going through as the character and more about what’s going on in the play on a larger level. Listening to music on the way home and reading also helps to let go of it.
You seem to hit the co-star jackpot every time. Tell us about the Golden Boy cast.
Oh man. It would be hard to imagine a better cast than the one that we have. I’m so inspired by working with [stage father] Tony [Shalhoub] on stage, but also just watching him. Everything he is doing in that role is gorgeous. Yvonne [Strahovski] is such a beautiful Lorna. She brings so much heart and also an incredible strength. It feels like every time I turn my head, I’m seeing a great performance that deserves all the accolades in the world.
Are you loving your Golden Boy physique right now? Taking extra time in front of the mirror?
[Laughs.] I found this passion for [boxing] which I never would have normally in my life.
Do you think you’ll keep up with boxing after the show?
I think so; I feel like I’ve gotten some of the movement in my body now. The thing I love is that it's equally mentally engaging as it is physically engaging. I have never been able to hold onto a really strict gym regime because I get bored. But [boxing] is so mentally engaging, I never get bored doing it. That part of it I really like, and I would like to keep doing it after the show is done.
Let’s talk about being the youngest person ever accepted to Juilliard. Do you think it forced you to grow up more quickly?
I think I put the pressure on myself more than anyone else. Being 16 when I showed up for school, I felt pressure to prove that they hadn’t made a mistake in taking me. I wanted them to see I was going to work hard and do good work. It took me a couple of years to let go of that.
What’s the most ridiculous thing we wouldn’t know about Al Pacino that you learned during The Merchant of Venice?
Something that surprised me about him was that he hung out with us. He’s such an icon and such a figure; I thought he’d just do his own thing, but he’s a kind, generous, loving man. We’d go with him to Café Un Deux Trois and ask questions about his life. One of the funniest things he ever said was if he weren’t an actor, he’d want to be a short order cook at a diner. He did a movie [adaptation of Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny] where he played a short order cook, and he just loved hanging around those guys and thought it was a lot of fun.
I really liked Private Romeo. Why did you want to be a part of that?
It struck me as a really interesting experiment that we could embark on artistically. It’s a medium I had never worked in before, but it was also putting Shakespeare on film and then adding on to that the context of examining that great love story [Romeo and Juliet] through the context of these young guys at military school. I’m always interested in storytelling and whatever form that comes in. This is my third Broadway show, but I also continue doing off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway and projects that would be considered experimental or abstract. I don’t think there should be a hierarchy of what is valid in the arts.
You’ve worked with Matt Doyle on that film and in War Horse. What do you love about working with him?
Where to start? He’s just the best guy. He’s a very close, dear friend of mine now. Matt constantly amazes me. He’s so talented in so many ways: great actor, phenomenal singer. I love working with him because he’s a very generous actor, and I think because of how close we have gotten, I just feel comfortable working with him. He always says yes, and I love artists who are willing to try.
Are you going to check him out in The Book of Mormon?
I would really like to. I’m sure Matt is fantastic in it.
Speaking of War Horse, the play got so much awards love, but you got unfairly screwed at Tony time. Do you invest much in awards?
I think any actor would be lying if they said that it didn’t matter at all, but it’s not why I wanted to be an actor, and it’s not why I want to be an actor for the rest of my life. I feel like I’ve already won the lottery by getting to do this play every night. Sure, it would be great if someone wanted to give me something, but at the same time I don’t think any form of art should be looked at as a competition. It’s not like the Olympics where you can say this guy is the fastest swimmer and that is the truth because he did it faster than any other guy. In terms of acting, I really think it’s impossible to say this person is the best at acting.
What’s next after Golden Boy?
There’s a play that I worked on a couple years ago, Slipping, and we’re trying to set up another production of that in Los Angeles. Other than that, I’m auditioning, and I’m co-writing a film with a friend of mine that we hope to get produced next year. But really, I’m just focusing on being Joe Bonaparte every night.